Coffee with Ibrahim Gailani

23 Jun 2016
POSTED BY Alvin Thomas

Contemporary artist, entrepreneur and art critic, Ibrahim Gailani sits down with Alvin Thomas to discuss his life and future projects.

Ibrahim Gailani from Gailani Art is quite a familiar face around Muscat. Being a bit of a man about town myself, I notice that Gailani is a constant on the list of VIPs – but I’ve never spoken to him.

I found him on Instagram late last year and it didn’t take me long to become a fan of the artist. So, when Gailani agreed to sit down for coffee with me, I was quite excited at the prospect of getting to know the man behind the art and  philanthropy work.

Gailani was punctual for the interview at Y’s office in Seeb, coming in after Iftar with his family. He’s quite flamboyantly dressed as usual and cuts a larger than life personality.

I’m interested to know what motivates him to do what he does.

The word on the street is that Gailani is not just an artist, but also a successful entrepreneur – with Gailani Art Retreat, Art Blog, Art Talk Show and Art Talent Hunt.

Laughing it off, he says that his roots in art come from his upbringing.

“My earliest memory of taking the brush and painting something was at the age of six,” he reminisces.

“I remember that my earliest paintings were either something religious or something pertaining to the British royal family.

“The royal family, the queens, Henry VIII and many others were the subjects of my earlier paintings.” He adds that his life-long dream is to meet Queen Elizabeth II.

Gailani, originally from Baghdad, settled in Sharjah, in the UAE, during his early years. He recollects that it was his mother who fuelled his passion for art. He adopted the “Gailani” tag for his work because of its catchy tone: “Ga-ee-laa-ni”. It was also a tradition for artists to sign their last names on their works, he adds. 

Gailani says that he spent his early days admiring art works by renowned artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting, The Creation of Adam, is something I spent hours drawing inspiration from,” he says. 

However, growing up, Gailani had to prioritise his passion for art behind his career. He opted to pursue a Master’s degree in business administration (MBA) from Greenwich University in Karachi, Pakistan, (formerly Southeastern University) in 1997.

“Following that, I took the corporate path for a while, working with bigger companies,” he says. “I consider that a dark part of my life because I wasn’t fulfilling the needs of my creative side.

“I was depriving my own talents to be dormant within me.”

Coming to Oman, he says, changed him in many ways. He took a pause from his corporate life, spending time on his artwork and organising Art Retreats.

“It has taken me a good 10 years to get where I am,” he says. 

“Initially, I was rejected from a gallery event I attended with my art in Oman.

“They said that my work was too avant-garde and that there was no place for such art.”

That was seven years ago.

“Things are very different now,” he exclaims.

“Some of the art that is done by Omanis nowadays is extremely thought-provoking and incredibly stunning. 

“It was really difficult to showcase such artworks because Oman had a strong taste for classical artworks initially.

“And I was painting about topics such as alcoholism, drugs and individual characteristics. I may have been a bit over the top.

“However, I have always been known as a debating artist, raising social issues. So, I stuck to my basics.”

Gailani has shown more than 150 works in exhibitions and various galleries across the Sultanate. He has also organised 14 exhibitions in Oman – something he is heavily investing his efforts on.

Gailani also holds day-long Art Retreats once a month, a concept that enters its fourth year in September.

“More than 600 participants have already taken part in our retreats. It starts with a group of people sitting in a circle holding hands, following which a topic is given. The participants will then ponder upon their thoughts.

“The idea of this is to let them express their inner feelings and heal in the process,” he says. 

Gailani was also involved in the Call of Peace initiative, by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which saw more than 150 children from 80 nationalities unite to paint messages of peace.

“Children from areas like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan also came together and painted such powerful messages for peace. It made me cry,” he says. 

Gailani also worked on the Art 100×100 project with the Oman Cancer Association (OCA).

“When I was fairly discreet in the region, it was Madam Yuthar al Rawahy [the founder and former president of the OCA] who took a chance with me.

“During the exhibition,100 artists got together and painted a portrait of someone we lost to cancer. We would then donate all of the paintings to the OCA, before it was sold. The money was used to fund the OCA’s early detection campaigns and so forth.

“I painted my father, unfortunately we lost him to cancer.”

Delving into his future projects, I learn that Gailani is working with the Omani Heritage Gallery. He is also looking to publish his first book. However, he is tight-lipped about both projects.

“You’ll be hearing more about it soon,” he jokes, just as we conclude our interview.   

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